Bringing a message of hope

Debbie Nolan writes about a message of hope for prisoners, following this year’s Throughcare Conference:

I had the privilege of attending the ‘No Offence!’ Throughcare: getting it right conference at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale on October 22. I came to the event hopeful that this may herald a much needed and deserved focus on throughcare and opportunity to explore what we are currently, could, and should be doing if we are to optimise the potential for successful reintegration (and as Claire Lightowler, Director of CYCJ, rightfully recognised often integration for the first time) of those leaving custody and secure care into our communities. What I was not expecting was for hope to become such a theme of the day and I certainly left the conference with a number of hopes, some of which I will explore below.

Hope that we can address some of the barriers to employment. Employment was (another) major theme of the conference, identified by Catherine Bisset (Principle Researcher, Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services) as key in successful throughcare. Some positive examples were identified from the Evaluation of Greenock Prison Throughcare Project, the work of Recruit with Conviction, and the “No Offence Unlock Your Future” key that is used on job advertisements to indicate that this employer will consider all applications on their merit as oppose to past. Kenny MacAskill (MSP Cabinet Secretary for Justice) also highlighted plans for a summit in partnership with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) with employers in spring 2015 and encouraged all public sector employers to look at their own recruitment policy and practice in respect of those with a criminal conviction. However more is needed, with Catherine highlighting the importance of more opportunities for coordinated reaching-in to the prison environment. Richard Thomson (Director, Recruit with Conviction) also underlined the importance of the right job and employer, at the right time, and in the right place.

Hope that we can meet the need for stable and sustainable housing as a key element of throughcare. Catherine identified Home Office research has found that prisoners who have accommodation arranged on release are four times more likely to have employment, education or training arranged than those who do not have accommodation in place. It is clear housing is a complex issue, with Kenny MacAskill acknowledging this, and I hope (again!) that interested parties utilise his request for suggestions and solutions that can be discussed with COSLA and Recognised Social Landlords on how the lack of appropriate accommodation for people leaving custody can be addressed. The CYCJ will prepare a collective response and would welcome any suggestions that can be included in this response.

Hope that the scale of the revised vision, mission and direction for the SPS set out in the organisation review “Unlocking Potential” and presented by Ian Davidson (Director for Strategy and Innovation, SPS) is recognised and realised. I hope that the necessary time, support and training to achieve this is afforded throughout the SPS.

Hope that we can implement what the evidence tells us about what contributes to successful throughcare. This includes the importance of continuous long-term services combining support during sentence and as individuals return to the community, positive relationships with key workers, service user engagement, flexibility and resources to meet the individualised needs, and communication and coordination between different agencies and supports. None of this is new information but we all have a role in implementing and achieving this.

Hope that we all recognise our role not just as professionals but as individuals and members of society to open up discussions about the needs and experiences of those who have offended. Utilising James Horton’s quote “hurt people hurt people” highlighted by Graham Golden (Chief Inspector, Violence Reduction Unit) seems a good way of doing so.  Likewise, we need to continue to make evidence available that can challenge society’s perception of crime as the statistics provided by Claire Lightowler (Director, CYCJ) illustrated in respect of youth offending (Claire’s presentation is available here). In addition, I hope that the Redemption and Justice Awards will be introduced in Scotland in 2015, with such events challenging the usual negativity and stigma surrounding those involved in offending and offer an opportunity often for the first time for positive recognition. The importance of this and the associated sense of hope (see I told you it was a theme!) was summed up with Sue Clifford (Chief Executive, No Offence!) using the quote from Steve Duncan “Hope is the drug every offender needs”.

Hope that I can work through the list the length of my arm of people I met at the conference who I intend to email for more information on their organisations!

Lastly, I hope that the women prisoners who attended the conference, and in Pete White’s (Positive Prisons? Positive Futures….) focus group, shared their experiences and challenged the SPS staff on the realities of prison life from a prisoner perspective, and gain throughcare support on leaving prison that learns the lessons from this Conference.

About our blogger

Debbie Nolan is a Practice Development Associate with CYCJ. Since 2004 she has worked with vulnerable and marginalised children and young people across sectors and in various roles. Read more.